Ghastly Victories: The United States in the World Wars

Italy with its merchant marine in their home ports is going to make the Med and North Africa a bloody hell zone. And given how Malta is talked about I have a bad feeling about it.
 
TBF it did say infamous operation, I'm expecting it to be TTLs Crete but it still fails.
If Italy controls the air and the Med it can't help but succeed. They can just bomb and shell it flat. Tarawa fell in a week, Corregidor lasted a couple of days. The two British fortresses that were cut off fell in four days (Tobruk) to a week (Singapore).

Crete was a mess due to German codes being broken and a poor German plan. Also absurd German
gear and procedures. Weapons were dropped separately from the troops and a paratrooper had to stand up for over a minute and a half to take off his harness.

Playfair and the other British official historians, gave figures of 1,990 Germans killed, 2,131 wounded, 1,995 missing, a total of 6,116 men "compiled from what appear to be the most reliable German records".

The Germans airlifted approximately 16,000 troops into the battle.

Churchill with his usual bombast claimed that the Germans must have suffered well over 15,000 casualties.

Of a force of more than 10,000 men, 5,255 Greek troops were captured, 544 casualties.

The Germans freed 14,000 Italian Prisoners on Crete.

German Losses = 6,116
Allied Losses = 1,742+1,737+11,385+5,255+544+2,011RN= 22,674

Playfair British Official History on Crete
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Part 6-47 Great Naval Battles
#85 The Naval Battle of Malta and Lampedusa, June 16th and 17th 1941

Britain entered WWII facing a single nation, Germany, with the aid of France. Until May 1941 there was no consideration that she could possibly lose, simply how much she would pay to win. Because of that the British establishment was able to worry about others taking advantage of Britain’s distraction to upend the status quo, the Soviet Union, Japan and Italy. The geographic position of the USSR and the strength of the IJN meant there was little Britian could do to intimidate them. Italy however was a different story, being both more vulnerable to naval attack and possessing a much smaller navy, a strong Mediterranean fleet could intimidate her into avoiding any aggressive moves Britian did not like.

Malta was the traditional base of the British Mediterranean fleet since the Napoleonic wars and possessed the only British drydock in that sea which could handle the modern capital ships of the RN, making it the logical choice. To supply the fleet the Admiralty, and First Lord Churchill in particular chose those ships that had just entered commission or completed major rebuilding/repairs so as to allow them to work up in safe waters and to free up already functional ships for combat. It was thought that with Italian leader Erasmo Sanna’s known antipathy towards Hitler that there was no chance for Italy to enter the war and thus it was safe to use those unready ships as a scarecrow to intimidate Sanna into staying passive in the Balkans and elsewhere.

Sanna however was not intimidated and with the utter defeat of the Anglo-French in Case Grey judged that the time was perfect to enter the war and achieve his irredentist goals for Italy, even if it meant working with a man he hated. As his opening move Sanna planned to hit the British as hard as possible so as to convince them not to try and prolong the war to take Italy’s colonies to mitigate their defeat by Germany. His primary target was to be the British Mediterranean fleet at Malta, which in addition to having an outsized impact in the British psyche also was a dire threat to Italian supply lines to North Africa if it managed to withdraw to Alexandria. The Italian Air Force and Navy were ordered to make a maximum effort to destroy the Mediterranean fleet on the first day of the war.

Due to governmental inefficiency, despite indications of war as early as June 8th, a war warning was not issued until June 14th and an evacuation of the Mediterranean fleet to Alexandria was not ordered until the early hours of the 15th. This posed problematic as the Mediterranean fleet was not ready to depart immediately as some of the ships needed more time to bring their boilers up to power. It was therefore decided that the surface elements of the fleet would depart at noon on the 16th as a unified force, with the diesel powered submarines slipping away during the night on their own before the outbreak of war. The second part of this plan was a success, the first part was preempted by the Italians.

Just after dawn on the 16th, shortly after receiving news that the Italians had declared war from London, Radar operators in Malta detected an enormous inbound air strike. Immediately the 50 operational fighters of the Malta garrison scrambled and rose to meet the oncoming attack. The completely obsolete Bristol Bullfinches found themselves outnumbered 2 to 1 by modern Italian RE 2100s and Caproni 180’s and were quickly hacked out of the sky after achieving 6 kills, leaving the remaining fighters free to attack the British bombers on the ground and suppress British air defenses.

This left the sky clear for the Italian bombers to attack, all 350 of them. The first wave were 75 Breda 72 Dive Bombers, meant to attack the 3 battleships, the carrier Africa and 3 AA cruisers in port to disable the AA on the most potent ships for the later waves of level bombers. This proved only marginally successful, with only the cruiser Naiad losing its AA fire control completely and the battleship Commonwealth losing its starboard heavy AA batteries, but all seven ships were damaged, with hits on the light cruisers Trinidad and Cavendish occurring by mistake.

This was followed by multiple waves of level bombers of various types over the course of two hours, resulting in the destruction of the floating drydock and damage to all 12 heavy ships present and damage to 7 destroyers and the loss of the destroyers Kimberly and Larne as well. In return for this the Italians lost 14 fighters, 19 dive bombers and 29 level bombers, in exchange for the loss of 55 fighters, 37 bombers and 19 flying boats by the British.

Damage to the fleet in the air attack was moderate. The battleship Commonwealth took an additional hit in front of her A turret but lost no further combat capability compared to the hits that knocked out 4 5.25” turrets, the Dominion suffered a pair of waterline hits on her port side slowing her to 25 knots and a third jamming her B turret while the King George V lost her radar and suffered a major fire knocking out much of her light AA. The carrier Africa was the worst damaged, with 4 additional hits on her flight deck, of which only two were in areas protected by her armor, and a near miss to her aft dismounting her starboard shaft and reducing her to 17 knots. The heavy cruiser London saw a near miss to her port let in water and a hit to her starboard torpedoes which led to an explosion that dealt severe superstructure damage, knocking out her radar, fire control and AA guns and slowed her to 25 knots. The light cruiser Galatea took two bomb hits but retained full combat capability, the Bermuda took one hit that let in minor amounts of water and a second that destroyed her forward port 4” mount, the Cavendish lost her floatplane, 2 .55 HMG mounts and a knot of speed while the Trinidad had her X and Y turrets taken out of action and a bomb hit to her stern that took out several 20mm mounts. The AA cruiser Naiad was almost completely disabled, able to steam at 20 knots but lacking any functional armament, the Diadem retained her full AA capability but took on water from 2 near misses and was reduced to 23 knots, while the Curlew lost her A&B turrets.

Despite the damage suffered the Mediterranean fleet had no choice but to evacuate the harbor as planned, 90 minutes earlier than planned in fact. They could not afford to stay and be subject to further air attack, not with the RAF squadrons onshore destroyed and the Africa unable to launch planes. Neither however could they afford to head east, not with the crippled Africa and the Italian fleet out there. Instead they would hook south around the island and head west to French Tunisia and hug the coast of the French colonies for air cover until they entered the Alboran Sea. To do that however they had to get past the Italians.

The first string to the Italian bow was 30 MAS boats which were supposed to ambush them as they left port. Unfortunately for the Italians they assumed that the British would dash east and the British move west left them unable to intercept. This was followed by a strike from 30 additional bombers of the Italian Air Force, torpedo bombers this time. The destroyer Jubilant was lost while the cruiser Trinidad took a hit between her A&B turrets that left her slowed to 27 knots and without any functioning main battery guns, though 11 Italian bombers were shot down. At 5:15 a heterogenous group of 40 level bombers rapidly rearmed from the mornings attack performed a second attack, knocking out 2 4.5” turrets on Africa and took out several light AA mounts on Bermuda for the cost of 3 more planes. This left things up to the third string, the Italian surface fleet.

The main force of this fleet were the 45,000 ton Battleships Littorio and Vittorio, superior in almost every way to the King Edward VIII’s of the British fleet, and the 35,000 ton light battleships Actium and Lepanto, inferior in firepower and armor but faster. Supporting them were the heavy cruisers Trieste, Trento, Fiume, Goriza and Pola, and the light cruisers Bartolomeo Colleoni, Giovanni delle Bande Nere, Raimundo Montecuccoli, Muzio Attendolo, Emanuele Filiberto Duca d’Aosta and Eugenio di Savoia, with 33 destroyers as screening forces.

The Italian forces moved quickly to chase down the British and caught up around 6:00 east of the island of Lampedusa, which the British were diverting around to avoid the Italian shore batteries place there. At 7:00 and a range of 30,000 yards the Littorio and Vittorio opened fire and the naval battle truly began. The British admiral quickly realized that the Italians would overrun his force at least an hour before reaching the dubious safety of Tunisian waters, and if he wanted to save his crippled ships he would need to delay them. He ordered that the Africa, Trinidad, Naiad and 3 most damaged destroyers withdraw while the remainder of his forces charged the Italians to buy them time to escape.

In response to this the Italian heavies turned broadside and let the British come to them. while 2 groups of 12 destroyers were formed to attack the British fleet in a crossfire, with 9 destroyers kept in reserve.

Very quickly the damage of the British fleet told. The battleship King George V was almost completely ineffective in local control, allowing the Italian light battleships an uninterrupted gunnery shoot that riddled her bow and knocked out 3 secondaries by 7:30. The cruiser London had a similar issue and was spared only by the fact that she was the target of the Polawhose crew were the worst shooting in the Italian fleet and interfered with the more accurate fire of the Trento. The Fiume and Goriza had better luck engaging the Bermuda and Cavendish, with the former scoring multiple hits damaging before her opponent did, while the latter was even able to disable the forward guns of her target before she entered range. Trieste had less luck but between her and Muzio Attendolo Galatea was severely punished. Bartolomeo Colleoni and Eugenio di Savoia repeatedly failed to hit Diadem, though their consorts were luckier and were able to repeatedly hit Curlew with the ship unable to respond.

At 7:40 the destroyers on both sides began a brief but nasty engagement as the British vessel desperately attempted to protect their heavies. Outnumbered by over 2 to 1 and suffering from damage they gave as good as they got, taking 9 Italian ships with them, and two crippled British vessels being able to flee to Africa and the other cripples after expending their torpedoes and losing their main guns. Despite this several Italian destroyers did get through. The Luca Tarigo managed to navigate into Commonwealth’s blind spot and put 3 torpedoes into her, one of which took out her port shaft and her entire electrical power supply. The Strale got a hit on King George V near the stern and caused her to let in a great deal of water, while the Freccia hit the Bermuda and knocked out her forward guns.

At 8:10 the first major British ship was lost as the Littorio shifted fire to the London after her target was clearly disabled and rapidly destroyed her with a magazine hit. This was followed by the luckless Curlew at 8:14, the WWI relic being the exclusive target of three more modern vessels and unable to engage without zig zagging and presenting a larger target. The Cavendish followed at 8:19 after taking fire from two heavy cruisers, two lights and battleship secondaries. Dominion lost her A turret at 8:20 and her bridge at 8:25 as she was target for both Italian heavy battleships, at 8:37 she was finally lost as an Italian 15” shell penetrated the barbette of her Y turret and set off the magazine. Bermuda was disabled at 8:35 by fire from 3 heavy cruisers and later finished off by a cruiser torpedo salvo, with Diadem suffering a similar fate as she attempted to turn and flee at 8:37. King George V sank at 8:57, having been riddled with shell fire and taken two additional torpedoes, but with her guns still firing and her screws still turning. Galatea managed to survive until 8:53 by fleeing, but fire from 4 battleships eventually did her in, and Commonwealth was finished by torpedoes from the Italian reserve destroyers at 9:09.

At this point the Italian Admiral decided that a sufficient victory had been won and he was not going to risk losing one of his cruisers to the French forces in Sfax just to finish off the cripples, he would leave that to the submarines and airpower. The British cripples for their part reached the Tunisian coast and turned north over the night. There was some debate about seeking shelter in Sfax or one of the other Tunisian ports, however that would only be a temporary reprieve as those ports were within range of Italian bombers and would see them trapped and destroyed. Instead the decision was made to try and make the run around Cape Bon and make for Algiers if not Gibraltar.

At about 8:00 on the 17th Italian recon aircraft spotted the British force near Cape Bon and at 11:20 an Italian air strike arrived. 100 level bombers struck in a single mass and the French Air Force refused to come out and fight. With only 4 heavy AA guns that could bare on the approaching bombers the Italians were free to attack from far lower than usual and still only take a pair of losses. Africa took 3 bomb hits and saw a large fire break out sending a massive column of smoke visible for miles, with her speed reduced to 10 knots, Trinidad took 2 hits and was reduced to 8 knots while Naiad suffered from two hits and four near misses that let in a lot of water but failed to slow her. With her pumps failing it was decided to have Naiad make for Tunis while the rest of the fleet tried to get Africa and Trinidad up to speed.

While Naiad successfully escaped to Tunis, if required to beach to avoid sinking, her companions were not so lucky. The submarine Luigi Torelli spotted the pillar of smoke from Africa and at 1:10 came across and fired a spread of torpedoes at Africa and Trinidad, catching the former with two and the latter with one. It was rapidly determined that both ships were doomed and by 2:00 an evacuation order was given, with it completed by 2:30. The five destroyers then proceeded at maximum speed to Algiers, arriving during the morning and avoiding the Italian submarine patrol line and aerial patrols.

In all the British lost 3 battleships, an aircraft carrier, a heavy cruiser, 4 light cruisers, 2 AA cruisers and 11 destroyers, with almost 5,000 sailors dead and another 5,500 prisoner. A third AA cruiser was a beached hulk in Tunis unable to play any further role in the war. In exchange they sank 9 destroyers, did minor damage to 2 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers and 7 destroyers, with moderate damage to another battleship, 2 light cruisers and 3 destroyers and heavy damage to a final two destroyers. This was effectively the end of the British Mediterranean fleet and arguably the worst British naval defeat in history, with an entire fleet annihilated without even the loss of a single enemy heavy unit.

In the short run the battle was while decisive not strategically impactful, as the damage to the German fleet at Eigeroya left the British with the ability to temporarily divert most of their forces to the Mediterranean and operate with near impunity. Once the German fleet was recovered however the logic shifted and the loss of the Mediterranean Fleet allowed the Italians to control the central Mediterranean in the medium term and effectively supply their campaign in North Africa. In the long term the losses from the battle would constrain the British for almost the entirety of the war, with matters only improving well after American entry into the war.

The battle of Malta and Lampedusa is notable for knocking the Royal Navy off of the #1 position they had held in naval rankings for centuries, a position they would only briefly regain following the disaster of Operation Grand Central, and presaging their current position near the bottom of, if not outside of, the global naval top 10 rankings…

…The Battle of Malta and Lampedusa loomed large in the British psyche and triggered a great deal of enmity from the British in general and from Prime Minister Churchill in particular…

-Excerpt from 101 Great Naval Battles, American Youth Press, New York 2010




A/N Rewritten as of 3/10/24
 
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The battle of Malta and Lampedusa is notable for knocking the Royal Navy off of the #1 position they had held in naval rankings for centuries, a position they would only briefly regain following the disaster of Operation Grand Central, and presaging their current position near the bottom of, if not outside of, the global naval top 10 rankings…
On paper, this doesn't seem like much. Currently, the UK is at Number 9 in OTL global naval ranking. However, I think is the narrative that matters. Our OTL assessment of UK's WW2 is that the Royal Navy did prevail despite the losses because they were superior in both numbers and quality to their German and Italian counterparts. They had to dismantle most of it because their post-war economy couldn't take it.

ITTL's assessment of the Royal Navy here seems to be "Holy fuck, they got their asses kicked for nothing." It seems they don't even enjoy naval superiority here: they had to wait for the Americans for that. It's easy to imagine a very messy post-war UK from this scenario.
 
On paper, this doesn't seem like much. Currently, the UK is at Number 9 in OTL global naval ranking. However, I think is the narrative that matters. Our OTL assessment of UK's WW2 is that the Royal Navy did prevail despite the losses because they were superior in both numbers and quality to their German and Italian counterparts. They had to dismantle most of it because their post-war economy couldn't take it.

ITTL's assessment of the Royal Navy here seems to be "Holy fuck, they got their asses kicked for nothing." It seems they don't even enjoy naval superiority here: they had to wait for the Americans for that. It's easy to imagine a very messy post-war UK from this scenario.
The position of the RN depends on the precise ranking metrics used, most of them I've seen rate the RN higher than #9, with the common one that ranks the RN at #9 has Indonesia of all countries as #4

The RN still holds naval superiority, however until the Americans join they are severely constrained in their deployments by the weight of their commitments. Basically this battle used up most of their slack
 
What a battle! This is an absolutely STINGING blow to the Royal Navy and the maritime balance of power. I imagine the men of the future will curse the naivete of the planners that didn't prepare for war with Italy, and left Malta with a naval garrison sorely lacking to face the Italian fleet.

The retreat to Tunisia is an interesting turn, there are now British ships interned in Vichy French ports. Curious what will happen to them.
 
A catastrophe so absolute that it is hardly believable. Even managed more competently, the Italian military could have never achieved anything resembling such a Tsushima.
Our admirals were frightened by the idea of losing their IRREPLACEABLE big ships, and very justly so...
Plus, Air Force adn Navy basically didn't talk to each other, OTL, which was simply criminal.
 
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A catastrophe so absolute that it is hardly believable. Even managed more competently, the Italian military could have never achieve anything resembling such a Tsushima.
Our admirals were frightened by the idea of losing their IRREPLACEABLE big ships, and very justly so...
I admit this is not the most plausible, but I had to take part of the RN off the board as part of the badly stapling together 3 TLs, to enable GRAND CENTRAL, which basically is the defining moment of TL #2 that was mashed together into this one. So any implausibility is in service of that

Even so in OTL the Italian fleet sortied so the plan of "attack an outnumbered force after air attacks and MAS boats softened them up" does not seem to me to be impossible. The sheer success is unexpected, but that's a combination of most of the British ships not being fully worked up and the damage from before the fight began
 
I admit this is not the most plausible, but I had to take part of the RN off the board as part of the badly stapling together 3 TLs, to enable GRAND CENTRAL, which basically is the defining moment of TL #2 that was mashed together into this one. So any implausibility is in service of that

Even so in OTL the Italian fleet sortied so the plan of "attack an outnumbered force after air attacks and MAS boats softened them up" does not seem to me to be impossible. The sheer success is unexpected, but that's a combination of most of the British ships not being fully worked up and the damage from before the fight began
What is this GRAND CENTRAL? An operation of some sort?
 
#85 The Naval Battle of Malta and Lampedusa, May 16th 1941

Britain entered WWII facing a single nation, Germany, with the aid of France. Until May 1941 there was no consideration that she could possibly lose, simply how much she would pay to win. Because of that the British establishment was able to worry about others taking advantage of Britain’s distraction to upend the status quo, the Soviet Union, Japan and Italy. The geographic position of the USSR and the strength of the IJN meant there was little Britian could do to intimidate them. Italy however was a different story, being both more vulnerable to naval attack and possessing a much smaller navy, a strong Mediterranean fleet could intimidate her into avoiding any aggressive moves Britian did not like.

Malta was the traditional base of the British mediterranean fleet since the Napoleonic wars and possessed the only British drydock in that sea which could handle the modern capital ships of the RN, making it the logical choice. To supply the fleet the Admiralty, and First Lord Churchill in particular chose those ships that had just entered commission or completed major rebuilding/repairs so as to allow them to work up in safe waters and to free up already functional ships for combat. It was thought that with Italian leader Erasmo Sanna’s known antipathy towards Hitler that there was no chance for Italy to enter the war and thus it was safe to use those unready ships as a scarecrow to intimidate Sanna into staying passive in the Balkans and elsewhere.

Sanna however was not intimidated and with the utter defeat of the Anglo-French in Case Grey judged that the time was perfect to enter the war and achieve its irredentist goals, even if it meant working with a man he hated. As his opening move Sanna planned to hit the British as hard as possible so as to convince them not to try and prolong the war to take Italy’s colonies to mitigate their defeat by Germany. His primary target was to be the British Mediterranean fleet at Malta, which in addition to having an outsized impact in the British psyche also was a dire threat to Italian supply lines to North Africa if it managed to withdraw to Alexandria. The Italian Air Force and Navy were ordered to make a maximum effort to destroy the Mediterranean fleet on the first day of the war.

Due to governmental inefficiency, despite indications of war as early as June 8th, a war warning was not issued until June 14th and an evacuation of the Mediterranean fleet to Alexandria was not ordered until the early hours of the 15th. This posed problematic as the Mediterranean fleet was not ready to depart immediately as some of the ships needed more time to bring their boilers up to power. It was therefore decided that the surface elements of the fleet would depart at noon on the 16th as a unified force, with the diesel powered submarines slipping away during the night on their own. The second part of this plan was a success, the first part was preempted by the Italians.

Just after dawn on the 16th, shortly after receiving news that the Italians had declared war from London, Radar operators in Malta detected an enormous inbound air strike. Immediately the 50 operational fighters of the Malta garrison scrambled and rose to meet the oncoming attack. The completely obsolete Bristol Bullfinches found themselves outnumbered 2 to 1 by modern Italain RE 2100s and Caproni 180’s and were quickly hacked out of the sky after achieving 6 kills, leaving the remaining fighters free to attack the British bombers on the ground and suppress British air defenses.

This left the sky clear for the Italian bombers to attack, all 350 of them. The first wave were 75 Breda 72 Dive Bombers, meant to attack the 3 battleships, the carrier Africa and 3 AA cruisers in port to disable the AA on the most potent ships for the later waves of level bombers. This proved only marginally successful, with only the cruiser Naiad losing its AA fire control completely and the battleship Commonwealth losing its starboard heavy AA batteries, but all seven ships were damaged, with hits on the light cruisers Trinidad and Cavendish occuring by mistake.

This was followed by multiple waves of level bombers of various types over the course of two hours, resulting in the destruction of the floating drydock and damage to all 12 heavy ships present and damage to 7 destroyers and the loss of the destroyers Kimberly and Larne as well. In return for this the Italians lost 14 fighters, 19 dive bombers and 29 level bombers, in exchange for the loss of 55 fighters, 37 bombers and 19 flying boats by the British.

Damage to the fleet in the air attack was moderate. The battleship Commonwealth took an additional hit in front of her A turret but lost no further combat capability compared to the hits that knocked out 4 5.25” turrets, the Dominion suffered a pair of waterline hits on her port side slowing her to 25 knots and a third jamming her B turret while the King George V lost her radar and suffered a major fire knocking out much of her light AA. The carrier Africa was the worst damaged, with 4 additional hits on her flight deck, of which only two were in areas protected by her armor, and a near miss to her aft dismounting her starboard shaft and reducing her to 17 knots. The heavy cruiser London saw a near miss to her port let in water and a hit to her starboard torpedoes which led to an explosion that dealt severe superstructure damage, knocking out her radar, fire control and AA guns and slowed her to 25 knots. The light cruiser Galatea took two bomb hits but retained full combat capability, the Bermuda took one hit that let in minor amounts of water and a second that destroyed her forward port 4” mount, the Cavendish lost her floatplane, 2 .55 HMG mounts and a knot of speed while the Trinidad had her X and Y turrets taken out of action and a bomb hit to her stern that took out several 20mm mounts. The AA cruiser Naiad was almost completely disabled, able to steam at 20 knots but lacking any functional armament, the Diadem retained her full AA capability but took on water from 2 near misses and was reduced to 23 knots, while the Curlew lost her A&B turrets.

Despite the damage suffered the Mediterranean fleet had no choice but to evacuate the harbor as planned, 90 minutes earlier than planned in fact. They could not afford to stay and be subject to further air attack, not with the RAF squadrons onshore destroyed and the Africa unable to launch planes. Neither however could they afford to head east, not with the crippled Africa and the Italian fleet out there. Instead they would hook south around the island and head west to French Tunisia and hug the coast of the French colonies for air cover until they entered the Alboran Sea. To do that however they had to get past the Italians.

The first string to the Italian bow was 30 MAS boats which were supposed to ambush them as they left port. Unfortunately for the Italians they assumed that the British would dash east and the British move west left them unable to intercept. This was followed by a strike from 30 additional bombers of the Italian Air Force, torpedo bombers this time. The destroyer Jubilant was lost while the cruiser Trinidad took a hit between her A&B turrets that left her slowed to 27 knots and without any functioning main battery guns, though 11 Italian bombers were shot down. This left things up to the third string, the Italian surface fleet.

The main force of this fleet were the 45,000 ton Battleships Littorio and Vittorio, superior in almost every way to the King Edward VIII’s of the British fleet, and the 35,000 ton light battleships Actium and Lepanto, inferior in firepower and armor but faster. Supporting them were the heavy cruisers Trieste, Trento, Fiume, Goriza and Pola, and the light cruisers Bartolomeo Colleoni, Giovanni delle Bande Nere, Raimundo Montecuccoli, Muzio Attendolo, Emanuele Filiberto Duca d’Aosta and Eugenio di Savoia, with 33 destroyers as screening forces.

The Italian forces moved quickly to chase down the British and caught up around 6:00 east of the island of Lampedusa, which the British were diverting around to avoid the Italian shore batteries place there. At 7:00 and a range of 30,000 yards the Littorio and Vittorio opened fire and the naval battle truly began. The British admiral quickly realized that the Italians would overrun his force at least an hour before reaching the dubious safety of Tunisian waters, and if he wanted to save his crippled ships he would need to delay them. He ordered that the Africa, Trinidad, Naiad and 3 most damaged destroyers withdraw while the remainder of his forces charged the Italians to buy them time to escape.

In response to this the Italian heavies turned broadside and let the British come to them. The cruisers Trieste, Trento, Bartolomeo Colleoni and Giovanni delle Bande Nere were dispatched with 6 destroyers to dogleg around the battle at 33 knots and attack the British cripples, while 2 groups of 10 destroyers were formed to attack the British fleet in a crossfire, with 7 destroyers kept in reserve.

Very quickly the damage of the British fleet told. The battleship King George V was almost completely ineffective in local control, allowing the Italian light battleships an uninterrupted gunnery shoot that riddled her bow and knocked out 3 secondaries by 7:30. The cruiser London had a similar issue and was spared only by the fact that she was the target of the Polawhose crew were the worst shooting in the Italian fleet. The Fiume and Goriza had better luck engaging the Bermuda and Cavendish, with the former scoring multiple hits before her opponent did, while the latter was able to disable the forward guns of her target before she entered range. The Italian light cruisers were less lucky with Muzio Attendolo taking several punishing hits from Galatea, and Eugenio di Savoia repeatedly failing to hit Diadem, though their consorts were more lucky and were able to repeatedly hit Curlew with the ship unable to respond.

At 7:45 the destroyers on both sides began a brief but nasty engagement as the British vessel desperately attempted to protect their heavies. Outnumbered by 2 to 1 and suffering form damage they gave as good as they got, taking 9 Italian ships with them, and two crippled British vessels being able to flee to Tunisia after expending their torpedoes and losing their main guns. Despite this several Italian destroyers did get through. The Luca Tarigo managed to navigate into Commonwealth’s blind spot and put 3 torpedoes into her, one of which took out her port shaft and her entire electrical power supply. The Strale got a hit on King George V near the stern and caused her to let in a great deal of water, while the Freccia hit the Bermuda and knocked out her forward guns.

At 8:15 the first major British ship was lost as the Littorio shifted fire to the London after her target was clearly disabled and rapidly destroyed her with a magazine hit. This was followed by the luckless Curlew at 8:19, the WWI relic being the exclusive target of two more modern vessels. The Cavendish followed at 8:25 after taking fire from two heavy cruisers, two lights and battleship secondaries. Dominion lost her A turret at 8:27 and her bridge at 8:31 as she was target for both Italian heavy battleships, at 8:42 she was finally lost as an Italian 15” shell penetrated the barbette of her Y turret and set off the magazine. Bermuda was disabled at 8:37 by fire from 2 heavy cruisers and later finished off by a cruiser torpedo salvo, with Diadem suffering a similar fate as she attempted to turn and flee at 8:39. King George V sank at 8:51, having been riddled with shell fire and taken two additional torpedoes, but with her guns still firing and her screws still turning. Galatea managed to survive until 9:23 by fleeing, but fire from 4 battleships eventually did her in, and Commonwealth was finished by torpedoes from the Italian reserve destroyers at 9:03.

At this point the detached force began engaging, with the two heavies focusing on the British cruisers, while the lights preyed on the destroyers. Trinidad and the destroyer Javelin turned and charged the Italian squadron to buy time. Javelin was quickly destroyed by 6” shellfire from the light cruisers before she could enter range and Trinidad’s 4” secondaries were ineffective against the Italian cruisers. Trinidad was lost at 9:43 when an Italian destroyer managed to torpedo her. The crippled Naiad was lost at 9:49 when an 8” shell found her magazine and the two heavy cruisers worked to suppressing the 4.5” guns on Africa. This was successful and at 10:11 she was hit with the first of 5 torpedoes that rapidly sank her. The destroyer Khartoum was sunk shortly afterwards, with the damaged Jackal managing to escape into Tunisian waters as the Italians paused to pick up British survivors.

In all the British lost 3 battleships, an aircraft carrier, a heavy cruiser, 4 light cruisers, 3 AA cruisers and 13 destroyers, with almost 7,000 sailors dead and another 5,500 prisoner. In exchange they sank 9 destroyers, did minor damage to 2 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers and 7 destroyers, with moderate damage to another battleship, light cruiser and 3 destroyers and heavy damage to a final light cruiser and two destroyers. This was effectively the end of the British Mediterranean fleet and arguably the worst British naval defeat in history, with an entire fleet annihilated without even the loss of a single enemy heavy unit.

In the short run the battle was while decisive not strategically impactful, as the damage to the German fleet at Eigeroya left the British with the ability to temporarily divert most of their forces to the Mediterranean and operate with near impunity. Once the German fleet was recovered however the logic shifted and the loss of the Mediterranean Fleet allowed the Italians to control the central Mediterranean in the medium term and effectively supply their campaign in North Africa. In the long term the losses from the battle would constrain the British for almost the entirety of the war, with matters only improving well after American entry into the war.

The battle of Malta and Lampedusa is notable for knocking the Royal Navy off of the #1 position they had held in naval rankings for centuries, a position they would only briefly regain following the disaster of Operation Grand Central, and presaging their current position near the bottom of, if not outside of, the global naval top 10 rankings…

…The Battle of Malta and Lampedusa loomed large in the British psyche and triggered a great deal of enmity from the British in general and from Prime Minister Churchill in particular…

-Excerpt from 101 Great Naval Battles, American Youth Press, New York 2010
Italy made many errors and has a lot of things to work on.
  1. Italian aircraft flew high enough to get detected by radar. Does Italy know of radar?
  2. Failure to bomb radar sites
  3. MAS boats and destroyers apparently asleep and did not notice the British Submarines going past them at night, do they have Radar?
  4. Best time and place for a MAS attach was during the sortie from the harbor, in coordination with air attacks, not out at sea.
  5. MAS boats out of position not catching up, MAS Boats could do 32 knots and had a range of 200 miles. They should have managed to attack the initial sortie from the Harbor. It would take more than 1/2 an hour.
  6. Poor initial deployment of the fleet, with no flexibility to respond to the British going the wrong way
  7. Determine how they got outrun by a slower British fleet with cripples.
  8. Italian airplanes did not inform the navy of the British route. The Italian navy had its own aircraft.
  9. Determine the cause of the high air losses, % 15.5 of the bombers to flak, 33 % of their torpedo bombers against ships that had no air cover. These seem like Schweinfurt level losses. Schweinfurt was defended by hundreds of German fighters.
  10. Aircraft only performed one sortie and bombed the wrong ships.
  11. Poor gunnery
  12. no Italian submarine involvement,
  13. Failure to learn from reports by observers with the Germans,
 
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A catastrophe so absolute that it is hardly believable. Even managed more competently, the Italian military could have never achieved anything resembling such a Tsushima.
Our admirals were frightened by the idea of losing their IRREPLACEABLE big ships, and very justly so...
Plus, Air Force adn Navy basically didn't talk to each other, OTL, which was simply criminal.
Sanna's Italy seems no more competent than Mussolini's.
Heads should roll for how poorly this operation was run.
The outcome's a one off, outlier unless things change on the planning/coordination and other issues.
If the situation was reversed, the RN and RAF would have pulled off a bigger version of the Battle of Taranto.
 
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Italy made many errors and has a lot of things to work on.
  1. Italian aircraft flew high enough to get detected by radar. Does Italy know of radar?
  2. Failure to bomb radar sites
  3. MAS boats and destroyers apparently asleep and did not notice the British Submarines going past them at night, do they have Radar?
  4. Best time and place for a MAS attach was during the sortie from the harbor, in coordination with air attacks, not out at sea.
  5. MAS boats out of position not catching up, MAS Boats could do 32 knots and had a range of 200 miles. They should have managed to attack the initial sortie from the Harbor. It would take more than 1/2 an hour.
  6. Poor initial deployment of the fleet, with no flexibility to respond to the British going the wrong way
  7. Determine how they got outrun by a slower British fleet with cripples.
  8. Italian airplanes did not inform the navy of the British route. The Italian navy had its own aircraft.
  9. Determine the cause of the high air losses, % 15.5 of the bombers to flak, 33 % of their torpedo bombers against ships that had no air cover. These seem like Schweinfurt level losses. Schweinfurt was defended by hundreds of German fighters.
  10. Aircraft only performed one sortie and bombed the wrong ships.
  11. Poor gunnery
  12. no Italian submarine involvement,
  13. Failure to learn from reports by observers with the Germans,
A lot of these aren't actual errors. Now that I have an actual time to do point by point

  1. Italy does know of radar, radar is a lot more advanced than OTL so everyone has it, but flying under the radar is the exception not the rule. You get better range and speed by flying high, and you have more room to deal with accidents. Most big raids do not fly under the radar
  2. Radar sites don't move, ships do. Bombing the radar sites would still provide warning, and any bombers bombing them aren't bombing the ships before they get into open water and become harder targets
  3. They did notice, but nobody shot at them because they didn't want any shooting before the declaration of war was handed over between 1 and 2 am local time
  4. They didn't exactly know when the British would leave the harbor other than that day, so can't really coordinate that closely with the bombers
  5. MAS boats can do 200 miles at 32 knots in ideal conditions, non ideal sea conditions reduce both speed and range. That said this was still a screw up but not as big as you implied
  6. There was flexibility to respond to Britain going the wrong way, note how the fleet actually caught up to the British. There is also the ability of bombers on Sicily and Sardinia to get another crack at them, and submarine picket lines
  7. See above, they did outrun and catch the British but even with a speed advantage of over 10 knots, catching up takes time, especially when you are located far enough to the east not to give the game away. Edit: Still a screw up in that it took so long to catch up, but only a relatively minor one
  8. They were informed, or else they would not have been able to find the British
  9. High losses are due to flimsier bombers than B-17's, operating at lower speeds and altitudes attacking into the teeth of ~150 heavy AA guns, some of which are radar directed. Similarly 30 bombers attacking a force that can still aim ~80 heavy AA guns at them, moving low and slow to drop torpedoes and are big 2 and 3 engine craft so big targets, heavy losses are expected
  10. One sortie per day is normal for WWII, the German multiple sorties per day was the exception not the rule. As for bombing the wrong ships, they were lucky in getting as many hits on the right ships as they did, even the supremely trained IJN pilots at pearl harbor repeatedly bombed the wrong ships, and such things were extremely common. Identifying ships from aircraft is very hard and misidentifications were very common even with well trained observers
  11. I wouldn't call the gunnery poor, simply that actually sinking ships with gunfire is difficult and needs many hits unless you have a severe overmatch or a case of the stupids
  12. The submarines were waiting to pick off stragglers in AOs where there wasn't a chance of accidentally torpedoing an Italian ship by mistake, or more pertinently, being sunk by Italian destroyers by accident. No IFF for submarines, and identifying targets through periscopes is touchy, you don't operate friendly subs and surface ships where they might encounter each other
  13. Not sure what you mean here
 
A lot of these aren't actual errors. Now that I have an actual time to do point by point

  1. Italy does know of radar, radar is a lot more advanced than OTL so everyone has it, but flying under the radar is the exception not the rule. You get better range and speed by flying high, and you have more room to deal with accidents. Most big raids do not fly under the radar
  2. Radar sites don't move, ships do. Bombing the radar sites would still provide warning, and any bombers bombing them aren't bombing the ships before they get into open water and become harder targets
  3. They did notice, but nobody shot at them because they didn't want any shooting before the declaration of war was handed over between 1 and 2 am local time
  4. They didn't exactly know when the British would leave the harbor other than that day, so can't really coordinate that closely with the bombers
  5. MAS boats can do 200 miles at 32 knots in ideal conditions, non ideal sea conditions reduce both speed and range. That said this was still a screw up but not as big as you implied
  6. There was flexibility to respond to Britain going the wrong way, note how the fleet actually caught up to the British. There is also the ability of bombers on Sicily and Sardinia to get another crack at them, and submarine picket lines
  7. See above, they did outrun and catch the British but even with a speed advantage of over 10 knots, catching up takes time, especially when you are located far enough to the east not to give the game away. Edit: Still a screw up in that it took so long to catch up, but only a relatively minor one
  8. They were informed, or else they would not have been able to find the British
  9. High losses are due to flimsier bombers than B-17's, operating at lower speeds and altitudes attacking into the teeth of ~150 heavy AA guns, some of which are radar directed. Similarly 30 bombers attacking a force that can still aim ~80 heavy AA guns at them, moving low and slow to drop torpedoes and are big 2 and 3 engine craft so big targets, heavy losses are expected
  10. One sortie per day is normal for WWII, the German multiple sorties per day was the exception not the rule. As for bombing the wrong ships, they were lucky in getting as many hits on the right ships as they did, even the supremely trained IJN pilots at pearl harbor repeatedly bombed the wrong ships, and such things were extremely common. Identifying ships from aircraft is very hard and misidentifications were very common even with well trained observers
  11. I wouldn't call the gunnery poor, simply that actually sinking ships with gunfire is difficult and needs many hits unless you have a severe overmatch or a case of the stupids
  12. The submarines were waiting to pick off stragglers in AOs where there wasn't a chance of accidentally torpedoing an Italian ship by mistake, or more pertinently, being sunk by Italian destroyers by accident. No IFF for submarines, and identifying targets through periscopes is touchy, you don't operate friendly subs and surface ships where they might encounter each other
  13. Not sure what you mean here
2. You hit the radar sites so that follow-up attacks escape detection and to keep the operators busy trying to save their own skins.
4. The units trying to sortie should have gotten engaged as soon as the tried to leave the harbor, at the latest before the planes arrived.
9. If you want to attack a heavily defended harbor, Bomb and strafe the AA guns, make them choose between personal survival and the fleet.
13. About radar, conducting air attacks on ships, coordination between air and naval forces, British tactics. How to conduct multiple missions in a day.
 
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